An Open Letter to HarperCollins from the Upper Hudson Library System (NY

The Upper Hudson Library System and its member public libraries are strongly opposed to the recent decision by HarperCollins to establish a new e-content licensing policy. The Upper Hudson Library System, which provides the resource sharing network that connects the collections of the 29 public libraries in New York’s Albany and Rensselaer Counties, has been providing our users with downloadable e-content for more than five years. As an early adopter of e-content with our partners at Overdrive, we have steadily built our collection of econtent in anticipation of the demand explosion that we knew was coming. When it finally came at the end of 2010 with the proliferation of e-reader and mobile devices, our member libraries immediately began to plan to increase purchases of e-content. And HarperCollins titles would certainly have been a significant part of collection expansion…until now. On February 28, 2011 your company announced that effective Monday March 7, 2011 the “total number of permitted checkouts” for any HarperCollins e-book will be 26, after which point, libraries will have to purchase the e-book again. Further, if the decision is made not to repurchase the title, there is no option for the library to remove the title from its catalog. Instead, it will remain listed and unavailable for customers and library staff to access. Your company’s rationale for this change is to more closely align e-book purchases with traditional book purchases which do have a useful life expectancy, and as such, present an opportunity for additional sales for replacement copies. This abrupt change in your company’s approach to its relationship with the library market is troubling on several levels. First, the seemingly arbitrary determination that 26 circulations of an item as a measure of its useful life is not a true reflection of reality. The useful life of even paperback editions in libraries is typically well in excess of 100 circulations before the book must be replaced or withdrawn from the shelves. At a time when library funding is being reduced across the country, forcing libraries to purchase the same copy of the same book every time it reaches 26 checkouts will severely limit the buying power of libraries to build the wide and deep collections our users want and need. The impact of this policy change will certainly be felt by HarperCollins and all publishers of both print and e-content materials as libraries evaluate where their dollars can go furthest. Secondly, recasting what was a “purchase agreement” into a “subscription agreement” with unreasonable use limitations makes it very difficult for libraries that are charged to be responsible stewards of taxpayer money to justify spending money for your e-content titles under this new policy. One of our member library directors characterized any purchases under your new policy as “blatant misuse of public funds.” Please don’t ask us to rent what we were able to buy just two weeks ago.

In response to this short-sighted policy shift, beginning on March 7, 2011 the Upper Hudson Library System and its member libraries will no longer purchase any e-content published by HarperCollins or any of its subsidiary publishers. Further, we will actively encourage similar action from library systems and public libraries throughout New York State. Although in the short term, this will negatively impact our users, depriving them of e-titles by Janet Evanovich, Lemony Snicket, Neil Gaiman, Michael Crichton, etc., we feel that it is imperative that the library community make a strong statement against this policy change. It is our hope that HarperCollins will hear our message and reevaluate this new policy. We also encourage you and all e-content publishers to work in partnership with the library community to explore new and creative ways to make your material available to libraries in an equitable system that still maintains your viability as a for-profit company.

Timothy Burke, Executive Director Upper Hudson Library System